Reference Entry


James D. Hart

in The Concise Oxford Companion to American Literature

Published in print January 1986 | ISBN: 9780195047714
Published online January 2002 | e-ISBN: 9780199891030

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essay by Emerson, published anonymously in 1836 and reprinted in Nature, Addresses, and Lectures (1849). Based on his early lectures, this first book expresses the main principles of Transcendentalism. An introduction states that “Our age is retrospective,” seeing God and nature at second hand through the ideas and experiences of previous generations, and asks, “Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?” The eight brief chapters discuss the “lover of nature,” the rare poetic person “whose inward and outer senses are still truly adjusted to each other”; the “uses” of nature; the idealist philosophy in relation to nature; evidences of spirit in the material universe; and the potential expansion of human souls and works that will result from a general return to direct, immediate contact with the natural environment. The four uses of nature are (1) “Commodity,” or its utilitarian and sensuous contributions to the life of mankind; (2) “Beauty,” or the delight in the perception of natural forms, of the high and noble spiritual elements essential to them, and of the intellectual truths inherent in them; (3) “Language,” or the symbolic character of natural facts, which convey transcendental meanings to minds prepared for their reception; and (4) “Discipline,” or the function of natural environment in educating “both the Understanding and the Reason.” In expressing his belief in the mystical “unity of Nature—the unity, in variety,—which meets us everywhere,” the author develops his concept of the “Over-Soul” or “Universal Mind.” Nature is “to us, the present expositor of the divine mind,” which is the spiritual essence everywhere present in, and represented by, material nature, and in which man himself shares....

Reference Entry.  277 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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